23 Years Ago: The Black Crowes Release ‘The Southern Harmony + Musical Companion’
The Oxford dictionary defines the word "anachronism" as "a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned."
I mention this because anachronism is exactly what the Black Crowes existed as in 1992 when they released their second album, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion," 23 years ago today, May 12.
Everyone else who was making music had left behind the trappings of what was at that time being dismissed as "classic rock." Rich vocal harmonies, blues-drenched riffs and extended guitar solos had gone the way of the dodo after grunge moved in and took over. Even Aerosmith, a band that played a huge role in establishing this "classic rock sound," had abandoned soulfulness in favor of pop songs that kept them in the Top 40.
So yes, the Black Crowes, or at least their second album, were an anachronism.
The Black Crowes' debut, Shake Your Money Maker, became a huge success, and what had started as a fun throwback project became one of the biggest bands in the world. In '92, the Crowes went to Los Angeles to begin working on their follow-up record, but found themselves in the midst of major civil unrest. The L.A. police officers who'd been videotaped beating Rodney King were acquitted of any wrong-doing, and the public was enraged by this. Riots broke out, fires were started and lots of looting took place.
With this social turmoil going on around them, they recorded the song "Sting Me," which begins with the words, "If you feel like a riot, don't deny it":
"Sting Me" was a loud disapproval of what singer Chris Robinson saw as a government fueled by greed. Robinson said in an interview with In the Studio:
So we sat around and watched the news and looked out the window of the hotel and watched L.A. burn. And, to be honest, I didn't feel very surprised. I didn't feel very much anger. You know, it was something that was gonna happen. That's what happens to people who still play the games of fear and ignorance and manipulation.
Commercially, The Southern Harmony did not disappoint. It found its way to the top of the Billboard 200 and spawned four singles that all reached the No. 1 spot on the rock charts. The single "Remedy" nearly fit in with the alternative scene that was taking over the airwaves at the time, at least until Robinson breaks out with his Southern-drawl vocals:
He told In the Studio that the Black Crowes never really followed a formula, but were instead motivated to make music about people.
"The Black Crowes are interested in the common things that all human beings share, all experiences," he said. "From masturbating the first time to the first car accident you're in."
Perhaps the word that pops up most when reading about the Black Crowes' music, especially in reference to The Southern Harmony, is "soulful." That's certainly apt for the single "Thorn in my Pride":
With singles like these, older music fans might have been forgiven for wondering when Led Zeppelin and Lynyrd Skynyrd started releasing songs again. This time-machine effect is in full effect with "Hotel Illness":
Whether you enjoyed taking a break from grunge with the album or pined for the classic rock days of yore, the Black Crowes delivered a little something for everyone in 1992 with The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion, an album that stood out when it was released ... and an album that still holds up more than two decades later.